New Political Religions, Or, an Analysis of Modern Terrorism


In New Political Religions, or an Analysis of Modern Terrorism, Barry Cooper applies the insights of esteemed thinker Eric Voegelin to this political phenomenon, which has been studied from other more conventional and less philosophical perspectives. Cooper points out that the chief omission from most studies of terrorism is the "spiritual motivation" that is central to the actions of contemporary terrorists. When spiritual elements are discussed in conventional literature, they are grouped under the opaque term religion. A more conceptually precise approach is provided by Voegelin's political science and, in particular, by his Shellingian term pneumopathology--a disease of the spirit. While terrorism has been used throughout the ages as a weapon in political struggles, there is a vast difference between the groups who would use these tactics for rational political goals and those seeking more apocalyptic ends. Cooper argues that today's terrorists have a spiritual perversity that causes them to place greater significance on killing than on exploiting political grievances. He supports his assertion with an analysis of two groups that share the characteristics of a pneumopathological consciousness--Aum Shinrikyo, the terrorist organization that poisoned thousands of Tokyo subway riders in 1995, and Al-Qaeda, the group behind the infamous 9/11 killings. Cooper applies the Voegelinian terms first reality (a commonsense goal regarding legitimate political grievances) and second reality (a fantastic objective sought by those whose rationality has been obscured) to show the major divide between political and apocalyptic terrorist groups. Osama Bin Laden's "second reality" was the imaginarygoal that the 9/11 attack was supposed to achieve, and the commonsense reality was what truly happened (the deaths of nearly 3,000 people and the United States' subsequent military response). Cooper shows how such spiritual pe

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Columbia, MO
Publication year:
  • 2004


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